Geoff Covey, Tom Rainey, Dennis Shore
Despite the large quantity of sugar cane grown in Australia, no bagasse is pulped in the country. This is largely because of an established pulp industry based on the abundant native hardwood resources. However, increasing demand for fibre and the limited availability of additional forest areas make bagasse pulping attractive.
Technical issues relating to manufacture, infrastructure and pulp quality are discussed and scenarios of acceptable risk identified. It is shown that there should be scope for the production of market bleached bagasse pulp in Australia.
Australia is perhaps unique among countries which are both major cane sugar producers and which have a significant paper industry in that it does not produce bagasse pulps. This paper will discuss the reasons for this situation, whether the situation is likely to change, and what new circumstances will be required to make a bagasse pulp industry attractive.
The early paper industry in Australia was largely based around Victoria and Sydney, as these were the areas where there was a demand and the necessary infrastructure. The early industry was based around rags and later wheat straw which was grown in the southern states. This helped secure these regions as the centres of the paper industry.
In the early parts of the twentieth century the demand for pulp grew and created the need for additional fibre sources. At that time no viable technology existed for bagasse pulping, and most of the cane growing areas were remote from the major paper mills and from the major paper consuming areas. Conversely, in the south-east, near where the existing paper mills and markets were, there were relatively abundant supplies of native hardwoods. Although there were considerable difficulties in developing the technology to pulp these woods, the resultant pulp was of good quality, which was not the case for bagasse pulps at that time.
Three new eucalyptus based pulp and paper mills were built in Victoria and Tasmania in the late 1930’s and the centre of the Australian industry was firmly established in the South East.
Since that time there have remained two peculiarly local impediments to the development of an Australian bagasse pulp industry: the abundant supply of native hardwood and the isolation of the cane crushers from the paper mills (this is important as the potential for selling market bagasse pulp has been limited).
However, despite these historical difficulties, there are some circumstances that may now make the production of bagasse pulp in Australia more attractive:
- It has become difficult to gain access to sufficient reserves of natural forest to support significant increases in wood pulp capacity. The alternative has been to establish plantations, but the increasing minimum economic size for new pulp mills and the long establishment times for plantations makes this unattractive in many cases.
- The technology for pulping bagasse has developed so that satisfactory quality pulps of various types are now being produced in many countries.
- Imbalance between supply and demand for fibre in the region is making acceptance of non-traditional pulp sources more attractive.
- Compared with establishing timber plantations, bagasse fibre can be available with a very short lead-time and with the cost of collection already covered.